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Fourth International, August 1949


The Editors

The Power and Its Nemesis


Source: Fourth International, Vol.10 No.7, August 1949, pp.195-197.
Transcription: Daniel Gaido.
Marked up: Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


The scale of things in America is big; this is a land of giants. Immense forests, mountains, plains and seaports. Huge farms and factories. Armies of industrial workers. Magnates of steel, auto, chemicals, aluminum, rubber, oil. Multibillion-dollar corporations. All these go to make the mightiest empire the world has ever seen, the realm of the American monopolists.

This entire issue of Fourth International is focused upon that imperial domain centered in the United States and radiating into the farthest corners of the globe. Its articles deal with the most significant aspects of this colossal new phenomenon of our time which towers above the Western Hemisphere, dominates and moulds the destinies of the human race. This American empire transcends the imperial world of ancient Rome and modern England, not only in its wealth: far-reaching influence and techniques of exploitation, but also in its preeminent powers of production and destruction.

Some people who do not perpetrate beyond outward appearances deny the very existence of this American empire because the United States has only a few small colonies and has not taken direct possession of large territories on other continents. They do not understand, nor wish others to understand, the true nature of modern imperialism, especially in its highly perfected American form.

Imperialism is not restricted to outright seizures of lands belonging to other peoples; this is only one of its manifestations, and not the decisive one. Imperialist policies are inescapable consequences of the economic supremacy and political predominance of the monopolists within the nation, as John G. Wright demonstrates in his study of the growth of American monopoly. Under pressure from the monopolist rulers, the entire conduct of such a world power as the United States toward weaker, smaller and backward countries acquires an oppressive and exploiting character. Before armies, navies or airplanes go into action, international trusts and financial agencies invade the economies of the poorer nations, take over or buy up key transport, communication, industrial and banking facilities; grab their oil, mineral and agricultural resources; regulate their foreign trade; and thereby obtain control over their whole material existence. This economic penetration is supplemented and supported by efforts to master the political regimes even of more advanced countries, as we see in western Europe today.

Whereas the Romans conquered foreign lands and kept their peoples subjugated by brute force and military means, the American monopolists and their government bind their subjects in golden chains. In addition to their other forces, the US imperialists alone possess the capital and credits, the goods and machinery, the stable and negotiable currency the rest of the world lacks and must go bargaining or begging for in Washington and Wall Street.

Official and private loans and credits are no less potent instruments of American domination than diplomatic pressure and direct military intervention. The Almighty Empire of the Dollar brings these drastic measures into play only in such emergencies as in Greece or whenever it is ready for a showdown with its enemies. Meanwhile, in its drive toward world dominion the United States mobilizes a wide arsenal of weapons from the economic provisions of the Marshall Plan to their military supplement in the North Atlantic Pact, as George Clarke explains in his review of the world role of American imperialism.

Just as the monopolies grew out of free competition under capitalism, so the contest for supremacy among the competing capitalist powers has after two world wars resulted in a single imperialist combine organized under the auspices of the United States. America not only takes in tow the backward colonies but makes vassals of the most advanced and cultured countries. It has crushed Germany and Japan. It subsidizes Britain as a rich creditor; supports a bankrupt client, converting this once-haughty rival into the “49th State.” Now the United States is aiming to crack open the Soviet Union which has been closed to capitalist exploitation since it was wrenched from the clutches of world imperialism by the 1917 revolution.

In his recent speech at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Winston Churchill praised the generosity of plutocratic America toward the recipients of its favors. This imperialist warlord and his kind from the Japanese Mikado to Generalissimo Franco have ample reason for flattering the divine Dollar “from whom all blessings flow.” Without sustenance and support from Washington, they would all by now have been thrown into the junk-heap. But neither the masses of the United States nor the inhabitants of other countries have anything good to expect from the extension of Wall Street’s powers. Here in truth is the greatest force for evil let loose upon our planet. To safeguard their hoards of gold and squeeze more from the toilers, the industrial and financial lords are working toward a police state in this country and preparing, a death-rain of atom bombs for resisters to their predatory plans abroad.

The monopolists and militarists of the New World are pushing ahead with their schemes of conquest as though this new master race expected, like Hitler, to rule the world for the next thousand years. Many impressionable individuals of the type who were formerly deceived by the Nazi pretensions are today even more overawed by the juggernaut of Wall Street. “Look at the productive, political and military might of this monster!” they cry out. “It is impregnable; we are lost. What hope is there of defeating the imperialists and attaining socialism?”

These whimperers do not see that this colossus has feet of clay and treads upon unstable ground. As this issue goes to press, the first tremors of the new depression have sent ripples of fear throughout imperialist circles. This economic disaster can in its further unfolding undermine the very foundations of capitalist power. Despite their conventional calm, the moneybags realize that a severe and prolonged drop in the American economy would loosen the keystones of the world capitalist structure and endanger the survival of their social system. For another depression would set into motion an avalanche of forces already discontented with the capitalist regime. A rapid glance at these anti-imperialist forces will indicate how much latent power they can muster once they take the road of open opposition to the tiny crust of rulers.

Let us start with the peoples of western Europe whose regimentation behind its plans is today one of Washington’s chief concerns. At the close of the war the masses in western Europe unmistakably manifested their will to eliminate capitalism by giving majorities to parties bearing Communist, Socialist and Laborite banners. After the harsh experiences of the past three decades, there are few European workers sold on the virtues of “free enterprise?” either of the home-grown variety or with an American label. They want to move forward toward a planned socialist economy administered by the toilers and their chosen representatives. This alone can lift them out of the chaos, suffering and servitude which imperialist wars, treaties and tyrannies have inflicted upon them and their children.

Caught in the tug of war between Washington and Moscow and paralyzed by the treachery of the Stalinist and Social Democratic parties, the peoples of western Europe appear temporarily immobilized and confused. But they will not swear oaths of allegiance to the overseas imperialists, no matter how much the bourgeois politicians in Rome, Paris, Amsterdam, Brussels and London dance to the tune of the Wall Street pipers.

Certainly, the 80 million inhabitants of dismembered and occupied Germany will not be content to remain indefinitely the slaves of Washington or Moscow. The propagandists of the “cold war” would have us believe that nothing but serfs of Stalinist totalitarianism and enemies of democracy and free labor exist behind the iron curtain in eastern Europe and the USSR. But the actual state of affairs in Stalin’s domains is quite different. The Soviet masses know better than anyone else how abominable and insufferable the despotism of the Kremlin bureaucracy is; they were its first victims and are its daily sufferers. The Russian peoples who engaged in three great revolutions from 1905 to 1917, overthrew Czarist autocracy, landlordism and capitalism, and created the workers’ and peasants’ democracy under Lenin and Trotsky, have lost neither their ability to reason nor their love of liberty nor their capacities for fighting tyranny.

The communist elements among the older generation detest Stalinism; they recognize that the parasites who have fastened themselves upon the Soviet Union are the main obstacle to its further advancement and clear the way for the internal growth of bourgeois relations and for another imperialist invasion. Yet the workers do not wish to open any doors to capitalist restoration from without or from within, or to have foreign overlords replace their present despots. The younger generation has grown up without direct experience of capitalist institutions. They proved by the victory over the Nazis that, despite their deep-seated opposition to the Kremlin autocrats, the Russian masses do not expect liberation to be showered upon them together with atom bombs.

The peoples of eastern Europe also groan under the burdens of occupation: terror and despoliation imposed by the Kremlin. Their quest for freedom and a happier future gives birth to persistent movements against the Moscow tyrants which break through the iron-clad regimes of Stalin’s agents.

At the same time the workers and peasants hold back because they dread any return to the white terror, of the corrupt and stagnant anti-Semitic, semi-fascist, clerical-monarchist pre-war dictatorships supported by western imperialism. As Yugoslavia illustrates, even where they clash with the totalitarian machinery of Moscow; the peoples of eastern Europe do not yearn for reconciliation with Anglo-American capitalism or wish to link their destinies with its reactionary aims.

The colonial world, which remained comparatively passive during and after the First World War, has been in violent commotion from one end to the other throughout this decade. The powerful and persistent popular movements toward national independence and social reconstruction which have flared up in Asia, Africa and South America have forced the imperialists to retreat to second-line entrenchments. The British, Dutch and French have not yet been able to regain their former colonial positions even with American aid.

The United States hopes to replace these superannuated empires. But just as Truman announced his proposal to invest new billions in “underdeveloped” areas, his lackey Chiang Kai-shek was toppled in China by the mightiest sweep of anti-imperialism since the revolutionary upheavals of 1925-27. The colonial peoples will not submit to the yoke of US imperialism without the fiercest resistance.

But the US imperialists confront their most formidable antagonist here at home. Just as the American monopolists are the mainstay of the international band of imperialist marauders, so the American working class will be the central force in the grand alliance to be forged against them. Except for a small section of advanced workers and large numbers of the Negro minority, the bulk of American workers are not today consciously opposed to the sinister schemes of the imperial plunderbund. The major responsibility for this passive acquiescence, as Bert Cochran emphasizes, falls upon the labor bureaucrats who, like Esau, trade the birthright of the workers for a mess of pottage.

The enormous wealth of America has a dual effect upon the relations between the workers and capitalists. On the one hand, it enables the imperialists to bribe the better-paid workers and keep them more or less satisfied with their position. The immense reserves at the disposal of American capitalism have helped dull the edge of labor’s opposition through concessions. On the other hand, the workers have been conditioned to expect a good or higher standard of living, to acquire for themselves a larger share of the wealth they, produce, and to hang on to their gains.

The worsening of the economic situation will lead to a clash between these opposing class forces. As the national income diminishes and reserves dwindle, the fight between capital and labor will become fiercer. Instead of yielding reforms and concessions, the industrialists will be compelled to reduce and retract those previously granted. Their fear of the reaction of the workers is reflected by their resort to the Taft-Hartley Act and other police-state methods as preventives.

Since the close of the war, we have witnessed many ups and downs in the struggles between Big Business and organized labor. The unprecedented strike wave of 1945-46 is succeeded by the rabid counter-offensive of the employers in 1947-48. The workers and Negroes rise up to reassert their power in the 1948 presidential elections only to find their hopes blasted in the following months. These are signs of the growing unsettlement of class relations in, this country which foreshadow the greater conflicts a deep-going depression can generate.

Ours is a land of giants. But the greatest of these is not the American empire. The strongest has yet to grow to full stature and display its potentialities. That is the young giant of American labor. The legendary figures of Paul Bunyan, the woodsman; Joe Megarac, the steelworker; and John Henry, the black longshoreman, prefigure the proportions of this collective giant and the dimensions of his future deeds.

The epoch ahead will be marked by the clash of titans. On one side, the Croesus holding the atom bomb as the symbol of mastery. On the other side, the peoples of the colonies, the masses of Europe who will rise up on a universal scale to challenge and combat the aggressions of the Dollar diplomats.

The greatest struggle of all is the one shaping up on American soil between the monopolists and the legions of labor. The stakes are nothing less than the future of humanity. Who will prevail and what will be the outcome of these pending struggles of planetary scope?

There are calamity-howlers who predict the collapse and extinction of civilization and a new descent into the Dark Ages along the lines of the decline and fall of the Roman Empire. These pessimists have faith neither in the monopolist claim to save their rotting society nor the workers’ capacities to create a new one. They foresee only what Marx described as “the common ruin of the contending classes.”

But Marx showed how modern history was blazing a new highroad toward the socialist world of the free and equal. Monopoly capitalism itself has created a socialized production which by a transfer of ownership can become the lever for lifting humanity to new and higher levels. It contains the industrial working class which, in league with the oppressed on all continents, can organize the liberating movement to overthrow and replace the imperialist cliques. There are the nuclei of conscious socialist forces in each country organized in the Trotskyist movement, a new leadership which clearly points the way to socialism and exposes the perfidy of those parties barring the way.

There can be no valid comparison between the bullock-carts of antique Rome and the jet-propelled planes of today; between Roman chattel slaves and the CIO; revolutionary leaders like the slave Spartacus and people of the stamp of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky. The new conditions are giving birth to the new power of the working class and its revolutionary party, which will build socialism, not on the ruins of civilization, but on the framework of American science and technology placed at the service of all mankind.

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Last updated on 5.7.2005